By Bob Brigham
They once played on teams whose uniforms are now found only in memorabilia shops. When the franchises closed or moved to other cities, they donned the uniforms of other teams. In time they became the sole survivors in baseball among their former teammates of the now defunct club. For example, Eddie Mathews was a rookie with the Boston Braves in 1952 and moved with the franchise to Milwaukee the next season. By 1968 the slugging third baseman was with the Detroit Tigers and playing his last season. None of his old Boston mates was still in the game. Below are six other players who, like Mathews, represented the last reminder to fans who had lost their ballclub of the glory that once was theirs. Let's take a look at these men and the towns they left behind.
Besides being the last of the old Boston Braves left standing, Mathews will always be remembered as the only Brave to play in all three franchise cities Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. In fact, he is the only man in baseball history to play in three cities for the same franchise. Or for that matter, any franchise.
Many fans would guess Don Drysdale was the last of the old Brooklyn Dodgers to play baseball, but the honor belongs to Bob Aspromonte. A Brooklyn native, Bob outlasted Drysdale by two seasons. He was a 17-year-old rookie in '56 and got one at bat, a strikeout. In '57 he struck out - for Los Angeles, with the rest of the team. His best years were with Houston from 1962-68. Then it was on to Atlanta and New York, where he ended his career with the Mets in '71.
The last year anyone wore a St. Louis Browns uniform was 1953. Don Larsen was a member of that hapless crew and he moved on to Baltimore with them the following year. The change of names and cities did not have much of an impact, for the team lost 100 games each year, and Don dropped his share (including 21 in 1954). But in 1955 he got a shot with the Yankees. Funny how those pinstripes can put a few more games in the win column for a pitcher, including the perfect game no-hitter in the '56 World Series. His glory years with the Yanks ended in '59 and he was to play with six different teams in the next seven years. By his final season, 1967, he was the last Brownie in the cookie jar.
More than his grace around first base and his steady hitting, I admired Vic Power's ability to come up with just the right answer when confronted with a remark that met with his displeasure. In the early post-segregation era some people were slow to get the message. Like the waitress who informed Vic that the restaurant did not serve Negroes. As quickly as he put the glove on a runner diving back to the bag, the proud Puerto Rican said, "That's OK, I don't eat Negroes. I want rice and beans." Traded from the Yankees to the Philadelphia A's in his rookie seasom of 1954, he moved on with them to Kansas City the next year. Before leaving the game in '65 the showboating crowd favorite would win seven Cold Gloves.
Besides being arguably the best player ever, Willie Mays is the answer to a pair of TDA's favorite trivia questions: Who was on deck when Bobby Thomson bit "The shot heard 'round the world"? And "Which three Hall of Famers ended their careers in the same cities where they began but with different franchises? (The other two were Babe Ruth-Boston, with the Red Sox and Braves; and Hank Aaron, in Milwaukee, with the Braves and Brewers.)
It doesn't take a trivia buff to remember that in between May's Gotham forays that he played his best baseball in San Francisco. From the Giants' initial year there in 1958 until his return to New York in '72 he blazed a metaphoric trail to that other town in the Empire State, the one they call Cooperstown. Oh, yes, he declined after '65, when he hit .317 with 52 home runs but dads were still poking their kids in the ribs and admonishing, "Take a good look at the next hitter and remember that you saw him play. That's Willie Mays." And even as the sun was setting on a magnificent career in his last year, 1973, he still had enough left to help the Mets to the World Series. Meanwhile, every last one of his old NY Giants teammates from his rookie year of '51 were either retired or dead.
Fred Stanley, now there' some trivia. The Seattle Pilots franchise and Fred had their rookie seasons together. The 22-year-old shortstop from Farnhamville, Iowa hit .279 that year. He never came close to that again. But with the help of a better-than-average glove he lasted 14 years. In '70 he moved with the franchise to Milwaukee, where the team became known as the Brewers. Then, it was on to Cleveland for '71 and part of '72. A quick 39 game pit stop with San Diego at the end of '72 was followed by an eight season stint with the Yankees, 1973-80. Throughout his career --- which he finished with the A's in '81 and '82-- he was a lightly used utility infielder. And where were Don Mincher, Gus Gil, Greg Goossen, Diego Segui and the rest of that hardy band that gave Seattle a taste of big league ball for one season in 1969? They weren't playing in the big leagues anymore, but there was Fred Stanley, pounding his glove, scooping up the hard-hit grounder, making the sure throw to first - and swinging that anemic bat.
They called him "Mr. October", but not in 1967, when he broke in with the Athletics, who at the moment were in Kansas City, on their way west from Philadelphia to Oakland. It did not take the franchise long to pull up stakes after the husky outfielder, who had played football at Arizona State, joined the team. His second year was spent with the A's in their new home in Oakland. He remained there until '75 during the Charley Finley era of white "kangaroo-skin" shoes and near day glow uniforms. If the attire was unconventional, the baseball was superb, with the A's going to the LCS from '71 until Reggie left the club in 1976. He was in his prime years, and his bat had a lot to do with Oakland's success. In '76 he had a transition year with Baltimore before moving on to the Yankees. It was here that his personality and ability combined with the chemistry of Broadway to make a mix that ultimately propelled him to Cooperstown. World Series appearances in October became the rule rather than the exception. How do you keep a Reggie Jackson out of post season play? You trade him to the California Angels. That's what happened in 1982, and he played there through the '86 season. His farewell campaign in '87 was spent in Oakland. Had they moved the fences back? He hit only 15 homers. Did they raise the pitcher's mound, maybe move it in a little? His BA was .220. But he got into 115 games, and that was 115 more than any of the Kansas City A's he had played with 20 years earlier when the franchise last represented Kansas City.
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